A fire at an electrical substation in Sunnyside is being blamed for power outages across Newfoundland
- Warming centres being set up in communities, emergency operations centre set up
- NL Hydro working on restoration at Holyrood plant, no set time frame
- Fire reported at Sunnyside station cited as cause of outage by NL Hydro
- Reports of power outages across Newfoundland around 9 a.m.
Customers on the island of Newfoundland may be kept in the cold and dark until Monday or Tuesday, according to an official with Newfoundland Power.
"I do understand the agony that you're going through," said Gary Smith, a vice president with Newfoundland Power in a news conference on Saturday evening.
Smith said utility workers from Prince Edward Island are scheduled to arrive in Newfoundland on Monday to help with power restoration.
Tens of thousands of customers in Newfoundland and Labrador have been without power since shortly after 9 a.m. on Saturday, after parts of the island saw as much as 38 centimetres of snow fall overnight.
People across the island took to social media to report lost power from various parts of the island shortly after 9 a.m. NT.
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John MacIsaac, who is with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, said equipment failure caused a transformer malfunction at the Sunnyside substation that resulted in a fire.
According to MacIsaac, the flames have since been brought under control, and no one was injured.
"The trigger today was Sunnyside, and the setback today was Sunnyside," said MacIssac.
As a result of the fire, grid power for the Holyrood Generating Station was lost, creating a shutdown at the station. Crews have been working steadily since to restore power at Holyrood, said MacIsaac.
He said getting customers back on the grid will be a gradual process. Tens of thousands of people had power restored on Saturday afternoon, only to lose it an hour or two later.
Crews have struggled with power losses as the grid became overloaded by customers who put more energy demands on the system as their power was restored.
Approximately 87,000 customers remain without power as of 10:30 p.m., according to the utility's Twitter feed. The number of outages has been fluctuating throughout the day as repair work is done on the system, and as demands change on the grid.
Smith said it's important for customers who have their power to conserve as much as possible, by turning down their thermostats and hot water heaters to get power on to more people as quickly as possible.
Newfoundland Power has also sent out a tweet calling commercial businesses to turn off exterior and interior lighting if possible.
Smith warned about the dangers of carbon monoxide while trying to heat homes using alternative methods.
Winds, blowing snow continue
The storm continued on the Avalon Peninsula and parts of the east coast of Newfoundland on Saturday morning after a reported 38 centimetres of snow fell overnight Friday.
Blowing and drifting snow remains a big concern, and RCMP advised motorists to stay off highways.
Temperatures dipped to around -15 C in St. John's, with the wind chill making it feel like -35 C.
Steve Kent, the minister responsible for Fire and Emergency Services, said his department has been monitoring the weather and power situation closely.
"We're now in regular contact, of course, with emergency response stakeholders throughout the province, and many of which are actually present at our emergency operations centre," he said.
"At this point, I'm encouraging municipalities to take the next necessary steps to ensure the safety of residents."
Kent said a number of communities have opened warming centres to the public. However, some of these stations have also been losing power throughout the afternoon.
The City of St. John's opened a warming centre in the Foran/Greene Room at city hall for residents who are still without power.
Free parking will be available in the parking garage next to city hall, and hot beverages will be made available.
Rotary Paradise Youth and Community Centre is also open to the public as a warming centre throughout the night, with food and beverages provided.
The West End Fire Hall in Conception Bay South will also serve as a warming station, providing hot drinks.
Paul Mackey, deputy city manager, public works in St. John's, said the constantly shifting snow has been a challenge for crews trying to clear the snow off the city streets.
"Things are drifting in quite quickly in some areas, particularly the exposed areas and on the higher elevation, so we're having to make multiple trips around the routes and get them established," he said.
"We've got equipment on all 47 of our plowing routes, so equipment and staff are out in full force and they'll stay out throughout the storm and afterwards for the cleanup."
'Very unfortunate incident': natural resources minister
"This was a very unfortunate incident this morning," Derrick Dalley, Newfoundland and Labrador's natural resources minister, said about the widespread outages.
"Certainly I'll be meeting with Nalcor, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Newfoundland Power about what happened and to ensure it doesn't happen again."
Dalley said, however, that utility officials and workers must concentrate in the short term on restoring power safely.
"There are many challenges within the system," said Dalley.
"The system is old."
Travel woes abound
Travellers hoping to make it through St. John's International Airport will be forced to reschedule travel arrangements, as most flights are cancelled or delayed.
An airport spokesperson said the airport crews have worked hard to keep the runway cleared, but the high winds have been a challenge for flights trying to get in or out of the airport.
Marine Atlantic cancelled its morning crossings at Port aux Basques and North Sydney, N.S., due to inclement weather conditions. Travellers are advised to continue to check the Marine Atlantic website for updates.
Metrobus Transit has cancelled all city service on Saturday morning, with an update expected at 12 p.m. NT.
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said it received a large increase in alarm calls on Saturday, with a number of people calling to say their vehicles were stuck after the overnight snowfall.
Const. Talia Murphy said drivers should stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary.
Newfoundland Power ended its rotating power outages on Friday night, saying people seemed to respond to the company's plea to conserve power.
Michelle Coughlan, with Newfoundland Power, said they could start again as early as Saturday morning.
"We're watching the system very closely this morning," she said. "For the moment, the system is looking good, but we do anticipate that later this morning there is a possibility that we may have to begin the rotating power outages again."
Problems with broken generators have caused problems at Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro's Holyrood Generating Station, and limited how much power is available to customers across the province.